Moses wanted the Jews to hear G_d, who was obliging, but had many requirements for this conversation. The requirements themselves seem respectful for this auspicious occasion, though some substitute requirements would probably have sufficed. I think the idea is that the people are preparing their bodies, their clothes, and their minds for this conversation.
I was particularly interested in the passage at Exodus 19:15 where Moses said to the people, "Be ready for three days; do not go near a woman." At first I thought that this meant that women are not pure. But then I heard this from the rabbi at Chabat.org: that women are pure, and it is question of semen that is not pure when it is outside the body. Intercourse is pure, I suspect, because the semen is still contained, but when the woman emits "lively" semen that is less that three days old, it contaminates the women. I suppose if the woman were to hold the semen in until it lost its potency it (and she) would never become impure.
One might wonder who makes this stuff up ... that some things are pure and some things aren't. The Zen teacher, Dogen (1200-1253) said that there is no place where you can spit (meaning that everything was sacred). I recently piled some chairs under a Buddhist altar and my Zen teacher scolded me. I reminded him what Dogen said, and he said that some places are more sacred than others.
In the end, we each have a means of preparation for an important moment. We might count to ten, or we might clean up. Whatever we do, we become ready. Reading the Torah teaches me tolerance for crazy rules. And then, as I look in the mirror, I realize that my own rules are at least as crazy as the ones conveyed by Moses. (I just told my wife about all this ... who confirmed that these rules, like mine, are crazy.)
|Moses talking to his people about their upcoming meeting with G_d